GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The state is now accepting applications for voters who want to serve on the new Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, which was created by the passing of Proposal 2.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said 3,000 people have applied to on the commissions since applications opened last week.
“This is a chance for citizens throughout the state of Michigan to be a part of history," Benson said. "We’re only the second state in the country to do something like this.”
On Tuesday, Benson held a press conference at Grand Rapids Community College to educate the public about the application process. She was joined by a leader of the group Voters Not Politicians, which championed the effort to get Proposal 2 on the 2018 ballot.
“I am thrilled to be here and that the application process has opened," said Jamie Lyons-Eddy, Voters Not Politicians director of campaigns and programs.
There is no cost to apply. Applications can be completed and submitted online. Applicants must be registered Michigan voters. Paper applications will also be mailed to 10,000 random voters on Jan. 1, 2020.
According to the Michigan Department of State, a third-party, independent accounting firm called Rehmann Group will administer random selections used throughout the process of forming the commission.
Applications will be accepted until June 1, 2020. One month later, 200 applications will be randomly selected and sent to the four leaders of the state legislature. They will each get five "strikes" to remove applications they see are unfit.
A list of up to 180 applications will be sent back to the MDOS before the final 13 applications will be randomly selected to form the commission.
Ultimately, the commission will consist of four Republicans, four Democrats, and five voters who don't identify with either party. Each member will be paid $40,000 for their service.
There are factors that can disqualify a voter from serving on the commission, like being an elected partisan official or immediate family member of that official, employee of the legislature, and being a lobbyist.
These factors, among others are behind one of the reasons many Republicans think the commission will be seriously flawed.
“There’s a lot of danger here in that vast segments of the electorate aren’t allowed to participate in this process," Kent County GOP Chair Joel Freeman said.
Removing politicians and those closely connected to them is the point of this commission, Benson said.
“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do in administering this in a way that’s citizen-led and independent and inviting average voters from across the state and lead and be a part of this process as we feel they should be and deserve to be," Benson said.
Since the identities of the 13 commissioners will be made public, finding a way to protect them from corruption may be an obstacle.
Freeman said it's a factor he's feared since before Proposal 2 was passed.
“That is absolutely terrifying," Freeman said. "This is exactly the case, that someone could come in and be convinced by outside processes.”
Benson said her department is looking for ways to prevent things like bribery.
“We’re certainly looking into boundaries around which commissioners will be protected and we may need additional legislation on that," Benson said.
The effort and cost of educating the 13 commissioners about how the redistricting process works is also a point of criticism coming from Republicans.
“There’s a reason that maps have been drawn the way they have since the beginning of our republic and that’s because people who understand the process and the needs and the requirements are there and I’m not just talking about one political party or the other," Freeman said. "It’s the same as if you had gone to any other profession and said, ‘We’re going to govern doctors but we’re going to make sure no one on the board governing doctors has a medical license because we don’t want them to be swayed.’”
Benson said the commissioners will be able to choose who educates them about the process.
“We’ll be developing a strong educational component for commissioners once selected so they’re prepared with all the legal and policy and other details they’ll need to make their decisions," Benson said.
An annual budget of $3.5 million has been allocated for the commission's work.
"We believe based on evaluations from outside experts (the budget) is only about a third of the cost of what they’ll need to complete their job," Benson said. “Frankly, once the commission is seated, they can work as well to advocate for more funds and also develop philanthropic relationships that will be you know, fully transparent but can also provide opportunities to educate citizens about the commission.”
Benson said while Michigan is entering new territory, she hopes other states will see its success and follow suit.
“This is an opportunity for voters, not just to draw Michigan’s future by drawing the next generation of congressional and legislative districts for our state," Benson said. "But also to lead the country in showing how a truly independent citizen-led process can develop competitive, fair districts for the entire state.”